More retail pharmacies around the country began administering Covid-19 vaccines by appointment on Friday under a new federal program that is shipping doses directly to them.
One million doses have been allocated to 6,500 pharmacies – including some CVS, Walmart, Walgreens and Rite Aid locations – in the first phase of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, and the stores started giving these shots Friday.
This comes on a day when the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for reopening schools safely. The CDC is encouraging states to prioritize teachers for vaccination but does not make inoculation one of its key recommendations.
And a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation says that nearly a third of Americans – 31% – say they plan to “wait and see” how the vaccines work for others before deciding to get vaccinated themselves.
As for vaccines in pharmacies: Many stores still do not have the vaccine in this first phase of the new federal program. Walgreens will now have it in certain stores in 15 states; Rite Aid has it in six states; and Walmart and Sam’s Clubs have it in 22 states. The coverage area is expected to expand as supplies increase.
The doses sent directly to pharmacies are separate from the millions per week that the federal government already has been distributing to states – a few of which already were providing doses to a small number of pharmacies.
A person’s eligibility still varies by state. All states began with priority populations – often health care workers and people in long-term care facilities – followed by seniors and/or essential workers, or people with certain health conditions.
More and more states are expanding eligibility to people with pre-existing or underlying conditions. Currently, that’s the case in 11 states – Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Texas – according to a CNN analysis of public health department websites.
In New York, people with comorbidities and underlying conditions can sign up for appointments starting Sunday, with vaccinations beginning Monday. California on Friday announced it will expand eligibility to millions of people who have “serious underlying health conditions” or are “at high risk with developmental and other disabilities” beginning March 15.
Vaccinations on the rise
Though states have generally complained supply is not meeting demand, the number of vaccinations per day has been rising.
The US has averaged nearly 1.6 million doses administered per day over the past week, higher than the daily average of about 1.3 million last week, according to a CNN analysis of data published Thursday by the CDC.
By April, access could start to expand to the general public, and most Americans could be inoculated by the middle or end of summer, Dr. Anthony Fauci told NBC’s “Today” show this week. Fauci is President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The upswing in vaccinations comes amid concerns about the spread of more-transmissible coronavirus variants. One key question is whether the vaccines will work on these mutated strains.
So far, at least 997 cases of more-transmissible Covid-19 variants, first detected in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, have been reported in the US, according to CDC data.
Dr. Barney Graham, deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center at National Institutes of Health, told Biden on Thursday that the antibodies that vaccines make against the virus can still attack the known variants.
“Antibodies have a lot of places to bind. It may eventually lose efficacy, but I think we are OK for now until additional mutations are accumulated,” Graham said.
CDC recommends 5 key strategies to reopen schools
The CDC’s newly released guidelines for resuming in-person classes included “five key mitigation strategies.”
Those five key strategies are: the universal and correct wearing of masks; physical distancing; washing hands; cleaning facilities and improving ventilation; and conducting contact tracing, isolation, and quarantining.
Biden has pledged to reopen most US K-12 schools within his first 100 days in office, though some teachers’ unions have expressed concerns about reopening while many educators have yet to be vaccinated.
And according to a CNN analysis of federal data, about 99% of US children live in what’s considered a “red” zone with high levels of virus transmission under new CDC guidance.
Almost 73 million children – about 99% of the US population under the age of 18 – live in county where there were at least 100 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people, or a test positivity rate of at least 10%, during the past seven days, according to the CNN analysis.
The new CDC guidelines recommend virtual learning for middle and high schools and hybrid learning or reduced attendance for elementary schools in these high transmission zones.
The CDC’s guidance Friday says vaccination and testing “provide additional layers of Covid-19 prevention in schools,” but it doesn’t describe them as key strategies.
“Our operational strategy specifically includes a component on vaccinations for teachers and school staff as an additional layer of protection,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky at a news briefing on Friday.
She said the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that frontline essential workers – a group that includes educators – be prioritized for Covid-19 vaccination.
“As such, we strongly encourage states to prioritize teachers and other school staff to get vaccinated,” Walensky said. “If we want our children to receive in-person instruction, we must ensure that teachers and school staff are healthy and protected from getting Covid-19 in places outside of schools where they might be at higher risk.”
States loosen their coronavirus restrictions
The rates of new Covid-19 cases and deaths, and the numbers of Covid-19 patients in hospitals, are dropping after surges around the holidays. As they do, some states are dropping social restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus.
Nevada said it will aim to end state-mandated business capacity restrictions by May 1 in phases, though local governments can still issue their own restrictions.
Starting Monday, Nevada state rules will allow most businesses and houses of worship to have up to 100 people, or 35% of normal capacity. If coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to decrease, capacity would go up to 50% on March 15.
Indoor gathering limitations in Wyoming will be increased to 25% of capacity or 500 people Monday, and limits on sporting events, artistic performances, restaurants and gyms will be eased, according to Gov. Mark Gordon.
Though daily Covid-19 numbers have recently improved, health experts have warned that precautions are still important to keep the spread of more transmissible variants limited.
The CDC has warned that the variant first identified in the UK could become dominant in the US, and worsen the spread of the virus.
“Many of us think … as we get into the middle of March, April and May, that’s the time when we’re really going to see this big upswing in the number of new cases and, possibly, deaths” because of that variant, Dr. Peter Hotez told CNN’s “New Day” on Friday.
“So, how do we get the population vaccinated as quickly as possible?” said Hotez, the co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital. “… I’m really feeling good about the country over the summer, but I’m worried about the spring.”
New report says nearly a third of US adults are undecided about the vaccine
The 31% of Americans who say they plan to “wait and see” how the vaccines work for others represent “a critical group for efforts aimed at boosting vaccinations,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s (KFF) Vaccine Monitor report.
Many of those who said they wanted to wait said that a close friend or family member getting vaccinated would be most likely to sway their decision, according to the KFF report.
About half of those in the “wait and see” group are White, 16% are Black and 19% are Hispanic. A majority say they are worried that they or a family member will get sick from coronavirus.
Over half of the “wait and see group” view getting vaccinated as a personal choice and just 40% see vaccination as a responsibility to protect others.
The “wait and see group” are also politically diverse, with 42% identifying as Democrats or leaning Democratic while 36% identify as Republicans or leaning Republican.
The pace of vaccinations should ramp up in March and April, allowing a broader segment of the population to become eligible, Fauci said.
“I would imagine by the time we get to April, that will be what I would call for, you know, for better wording, open season,” Fauci told NBC on Thursday. “Namely, virtually everybody and anybody in any category could start to get vaccinated.”
Makers of the country’s currently authorized two-dose vaccines – Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna – have begun trials for children, starting with older age groups. By September, vaccines could be authorized for young children, Fauci told ProPublica on Thursday.
Johnson & Johnson would add to the country’s supply if the Food and Drug Administration authorizes its one-dose vaccine. The company has said it could provide 20 million to 30 million doses by the end of April if the authorization comes, with more possible after that.
Biden said Thursday the US is on track to have vaccine supply for 300 million Americans “by the end of July.”
CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen, Jacqueline Howard, Lauren Mascarenhas, Andy Rose, Samira Said, Naomi Thomas, Konstantin Toropin and Deidre McPhillips contributed to this report.